In this episode of the Wisdom Podcast, we meet Tibetan Buddhist teacher and translator Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche, Great Abbot of the Drikung Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism. He tells us about the region where he was born in Tibet in 1946, what Tibet was like at that time, and his memories of fleeing from the country soon after the Dalai Lama left. We hear about the time he spent as a young man in India studying Buddhist philosophy and other subjects at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, and he tells us about his first trips to Bodhgaya. He also reflects on his experience studying with Khunu Lama Rinpoche, focusing on two classic works by Gampopa: The Jewel Ornament of Liberation and The Precious Garland of the Excellent Path. After more than nine years of studying, in 1978 Rinpoche went into a three-year retreat under the guidance of the master Khyunga Rinpoche. He describes the conditions of this retreat in the mountains of Ladakh and goes on to reflect on the importance of balancing study and practice. Rinpoche then teaches us about the Drikung Kagyu lineage, sharing stories about its origin from masters like Gampopa, Milarepa, and founder Jigten Sumgon.
Khenchen Konchog Gyaltshen Rinpoche was born in 1946 near Mount Tsari in southwestern Tibet. In 1959 his family became refugees in India when the Communists invaded Tibet. Rinpoche attended school in India and in 1968 took monk’s vows from Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche. Later he became one of the first to graduate from the then newly established Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies in Varanasi. Among the great teachers Rinpoche received teachings from were the 16th Karmapa and Khunu Lama Rinpoche. Rinpoche also completed a three-year retreat at Lamayuru Monastery in Ladakh under the guidance of Vajradhara Kyungka Rinpoche. In later years, Rinpoche also received teachings from the tripön of Drigungtil Monastery, Vajradhara Pachung Rinpoche, and his successor Vajradhara Gelong Tenzin Nyima Rinpoche. In the 1980s, Rinpoche arrived in the United States and established the Tibetan Meditation Center (now in Frederick, Maryland), as well as other centers across the country over the next twenty years. During this time he translated critical Drikung Kagyu practices, prayers, and histories into English, and published altogether thirteen highly regarded books. Among them are Great Kagyu Masters, In Search of the Stainless Ambrosia, Jewel Ornament of Liberation, A Complete Guide to the Buddhist Path, Opening the Treasure of the Profound, and Wheel of Wisdom. In 2001, Rinpoche was formally enthroned as the khenchen (“great khenpo”) of the Drigung Kagyu Lineage by His Holiness Drikung Kyabgön Chetsang Rinpoche.
In teaching Dharma, Rinpoche always emphasizes the importance of letting Dharma penetrate our hearts rather than chasing after so-called “higher” teachings or practices or engaging in empty ritualism. Rinpoche’s teachings are thoroughly grounded in the unique view of Kyobpa Jigten Sumgon, founder of Drikung Kagyu. After retiring from the Tibetan Meditation Center, Rinpoche has maintained a true state of “homelessness,” not establishing any personal abode anywhere, but going anywhere the Dharma is needed. Khenchen Rinpoche continues to teach at monasteries in India, Nepal, and Tibet and at many centers and groups in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.